Every communications campaign should have a strategy. The most effective way to communicate with and engage your target audience is to root your campaign strategy in a comprehensive, evidence-based understanding of your audience.
That’s why the campaign strategy process refines and focuses the insights you gathered during research about your audience’s unique attitudes, beliefs, perspectives, desires, and challenges. Your overall strategy will translate this evidence into a framework, which you’ll use to deliver creative and impactful campaign.
The campaign strategy guides both what you say (message) as well as where you say it (channels) and how you say it (tone). The guidelines in this phase will help you develop a powerful communications campaign strategy that will allow your team to deliver the most persuasive message in the most persuasive way.
- Synthesize research into insights
- Finalize target audiences
- Refine the communications objectives
- Create the communications strategy
1. Synthesize research into insight
Your campaign strategy should be firmly grounded in your research (see Phase 2). Note, the research and strategy phases will often overlap; you may establish one or even a couple of hypotheses for how you might design your campaign and probe these during research, and similarly, you may go back to the research as you are going through the strategy process to confirm, test, or go deeper into your findings.
Start the campaign strategy process by analyzing the research findings. Note that a research finding, data point or observation about your audience is not an insight! Findings, data points or observations become insights when they are distilled down to a penetrating discovery that reveals an underlying need or motivation your audience has. Done well this can fuel your campaign strategy by pointing to a useful leverage point for reaching your audience.
Here are a couple of examples of transforming research findings into practical insights:
Finding: Serodiscordant couples in Kenya are worried about contracting HIV but this isn’t their top concern. The high cost of living, not being able to save and meet their family’s needs preoccupies them hence why they value their family and being able to support themselves financially above all else.
Insight: Serodiscordant couples seek stability in their lives above anything else.
Finding: Participants in the 2012 GMHR study similarly described how the need for secrecy—driven by criminalization, police harassment, and cultural norms—undermines the ability of men who have sex with men to sustain or develop close personal relationships.
Insight: The veil of secrecy that MSM are forced to live under prevents them from maintaining healthy and supportive relationships.
To synthesize a wealth of learnings into the most important and powerful insights, it’s often useful to start by organizing your findings. You can start this during research; grouping different pieces of data from the research into clusters will make things easier to digest and navigate. Clusters may be very large at the beginning, and then broken out into more narrow clusters over time; clusters can also change as you organize all findings. You might start by clustering findings in generic groups, such as “audience segment” and “location,” and later evolve into more strategic groups, based on a common theme.
Once you have a better grasp of the findings, begin to organize them into new structures. Especially focus on ways to make your findings visual; presenting information in new formats and mediums is a powerful way to expose patterns, connections, and relationships. A few examples of visual structures you can experiment with:
- User journey maps: These visually portray the different steps an individual will go through when making a healthcare decision. For example, you may use post-its on the wall to display the steps a young woman would take in getting information about, evaluating the trustworthiness of, obtaining, and using PrEP.
- Other maps: Apply the concept of a visual “map” to other decisions and experiences common to your target audience. For example, a “mind-map” can show the array of knowledge, resources, peers, trusted sources, and other factors that are part of an individual’s health decisions. Similarly, you can map thought processes, questions, answers, motivations, intentions, and more.
- Matrices: It can be useful to compare variables across a set of segments using a matrix, where one variable is listed on the X axis and one variable/property is on the Y access. This visual allows you look at things like audience segments, locations, and prevention methods and see how they are similar (or different) across a set of properties (like accessibility, side effects, or stigma).
- Diagrams: Illustrating findings as a diagram can help spark new connections. Draw out a process, for example, or a cause-and-effect relationship.
2. Finalize target audiences profiles
By now you have a holistic understanding of your audience—the people you seek to engage in order to address the problem and reach your objectives. In developing your strategy, you should write down a clear and detailed definition of the audience you want to reach. Start with the Audience Profiles from this website, then take your portrait further to include specific location, ages, interests, beliefs, and other insights and/or observations uncovered from your research.
While creating a nuanced portrait of your audience, keep the description as focused as possible. Your audience may be very multifaceted, but you may need to create a narrower description in order to inform a single strategy. Remember, you are focusing on your priority segment—the group of people that can be reached most effectively with the budget and resources at your disposal.
3. Refine the communications objectives
The heart of your strategy is in what you’re trying to achieve. What is the specific, behavioral change you want to inspire and support through communications? Make sure this change is grounded in research, and that it is directly connected to your problem statement. Importantly, the objective must be something that communications can address—for example, you’re not likely to try to increase healthcare workers’ sensitivity to highly stigmatized audiences (as that requires individual training, rather than broad communications).
Also think about the different kinds of communications objectives that are involved in behavior change. For example, think about:
- How high awareness of PrEP is?
- How well is it understood?
- How widely is it used?
- How accurately and effectively is it used?
- What are the norms around using PrEP?
A campaign is likely to focus in on one of these questions. For example, in places where PrEP is being rolled out for the first time, many people have not yet heard of it before; it’s very important for a campaign to raise awareness about the product among target audiences before audiences can be expected to use it. Similarly, even in places where audiences may be aware of a product, they also need to understand and trust it before they are likely to use it.
Here are a few types of objectives you might consider:
- Awareness. This objective is about getting the largest number of the target audience to see your content and communications, so that they become aware of PrEP.
- Consideration. This objective is about increasing familiarity and understanding of the product to encourage the target audience to consider using it.
4. Create the communications campaign strategy
You are already well on your way to creating your communications campaign strategy—this document will assemble your problem statement, objectives, audience profile, and key insights into one place. You’ll also develop a “strategic idea,” which is the most important idea you want your audience to take away and which will be part of all of your campaign outputs. And finally, you’ll begin to plan your outreach channels, and the ways you’ll measure success. You can see examples of each of these components of a communications campaign strategy by using the Communications Fast Tracker available on this site.
Answer the following questions to assemble your communications campaign strategy:
Objective: What do we want to achieve?
Working from the previous section, write down the single, clear, defined goal guiding your strategy and campaign.
- Clearly define the link between this objective and the larger public health goal (addressing HIV) your communication is trying to address.
- Make sure the objective is something communications can address
- Make sure the objective is both specific and measurable, so you can evaluate the impact at the end.
- Refer back to the S.M.A.R.T. framework in Phase 1.
Audience: Who are we communicating to?
Write down a concise-yet-specific description of your target audience.
- The more focused, descriptive, and vivid the description of the audience is, the easier it is to craft an impactful communications strategy.
- Make sure to focus on the target audience with the greatest potential impact and benefit from your campaign, given the resources and budget available
Problem Statement: What is keeping our audience from the desired behavior change?
Bring your problem statement into the strategy—but write it from the point of view of the audience. That is, the problem statement is the most urgent challenge standing in the audience’s way of the desired behavior change.
- Make sure the problem is something communications can address.
- Make sure the problem is backed up by evidence, and that it is relevant to the audience.
- Compare the problem to the objective; make sure solving the problem will help lead to the desired end.
Strategic Idea: What is the most important idea we want the audience to take away?
This idea should address the problem identified in your problem statement, and it should aim to inspire the behavior change needed to achieve your communications objective. However, note that the strategic idea is not actually intended to be seen by your audiences; it is an internal piece of text, the “how” which will be used to guide the creation of external creative messages (what will be seen by your audiences).
- The strategic idea is not a tagline. It’s a specific and detailed description of the idea you want the audience to remember.
- Make sure the strategic idea is focused enough that it communicates a single message; multiple messages (and a lack of focus) risk the desired behavior change not being achieved.
- The strategic idea will be used across various channels and tactics, so make sure it is flexible and rich enough for multiple purposes.
Support: Why should the audience believe the key message?
Bolster your key message by writing down 1-3 of the most important reasons to believe in the strategic idea. These reasons should be grounded in the product, in this case, PrEP. They should be meaningful to the audience and something that is relevant to the audience given the challenges they are facing when it comes to HIV prevention. The more convincing and meaningful these proof points are, the more persuasive your campaign will be.
- Compare the “reasons to believe”/support to your research to be sure each is relevant to the audience.
- Make sure the proof points directly support your strategic idea.
Channel: What are the best channels to engage with your audience?
Your communications must focus on channels which your target audiences can and do access—and which they find relevant, interesting, motivating, or trustworthy. Choose the most effective channels based on your research, to make sure you are meeting your audience “where they are.” Also take into account budget and timing considerations, as well as the strengths and limitations of different mediums.
- Different channels are suited for different outcomes; make sure your chosen channels align with your objective. For example, you will need to use a different channel for exposure than you would for engagement. (See phase 5)
Measurement: How will we measure success?
Finish your strategy with specific and tangible goals. Define the metrics you’ll use to measure your success now, so that you can incorporate measurement and monitoring throughout the campaign.
- Indicators should relate directly to your objective.
- Establish the timing of your goals and measurement process.
- Plan to monitor both overall success as well as the results of individual channels and tactics (tracking individual elements will help you adjust media channels if needs be).
5. Campaign Strategy Testing
The most important question to ask is whether your campaign strategy will resonate with your target audience. To truly know whether a strategy will resonate with your audience, strategic testing is key.
Strategic testing entails drafting several campaign strategies (three is sufficient; five at the very most) to expose to your target audience in order to determine which strategy will be the most effective means of achieving the communications objective.
It’s wise to test campaign strategies (problem statement + strategic idea + support) in the early phases to identify a strategy’s strengths and weaknesses and estimate their market and audience potential. Doing so will save both time and money.
Testing is not only about whether or not the audience finding a campaign strategy appealing; it’s also about their understanding of it, and how motivating it is. You want to test to find the answers to the following elements
- Comprehension: How clear is the strategy? Can your audience correctly grasp the message? Are there any confusing elements or misconceptions?
- Appeal: Does the strategy capture the audience’s attention? Is it interesting/compelling, or is it off-putting in any way?
- Believability: Do the support points help the audience believe the strategic idea?
- Motivation: Does the audience feel motivated to adopt the desired behavior?
- Relevance: Can the audience identify with the strategy on a personal level? Is it relevant to them and their lived experiences, or do they feel that it is “talking to” someone else?
There are different ways to investigate these aspects of your campaign strategy with an audience; often, mixing multiple testing methods is the best way to ensure you get a complete and accurate analysis of your concepts. You can choose from the below methods based on your audience test size, time, budget, and the nature of feedback you need. However, should time and resources only allow for a limited number of interviews or focus group discussions, this may prove sufficient at this stage.
Depending on the type of test you choose, you will prepare sample material of your strategies; and these samples are how you will present the strategy to the audience.
A sample discussion guide for qualitative campaign strategy testing is included in the tools & templates section.
6. Recruit participants and carry out discussions.
The success of your campaign strategy testing depends on the selection of participants who closely align with your defined target audience is vital.
Using your Audience Profile, ensure selected participants are similar to your target audience. You may also include influencers in your interviews, as they may have unique insights about your audience.
As you recruit and work with participants, keep the following best practices in mind:
- Start each interaction with a word of welcome. Offer a brief overview of the exercise and its purpose and give respondents a chance to ask questions.
- Reinforce that there are no “right” or “wrong” answers. Encourage respondents to provide their honest views and receive their answers with an attitude of non-judgmental interest.
- Take notes and/or record feedback (audio or video) as appropriate. Always obtain permission from participants before recording the session.
- Be respectful of your participants’ time.
- Always show appreciation to your respondents for sharing their time, energy, and insights.
- Inform participants on how their responses will be used.
Additionally, be intentional about taking notes and processing insights as you work. At the end of each discussion, review the results and make notes about the findings. Look back at the questions you set out to answer and write down any insights gathered through the discussion.
As you near the end of this process, organize and synthesize findings to look for trends. For example, you may organize notes from the test according to the Relevance, Comprehension, and other elements being tested—this can help reveal trends in the responses.
Use these synthesized results to modify your most motivating campaign strategy as needs be.
Checking in on your progress
Once you’ve completed a draft of your campaign strategy, go back to your research and key insights. Be critical; is each element of the strategy backed up by good evidence? It’s also important to share this draft with stakeholders collaborators for feedback.
This document will be the foundation of your campaign, so ask hard questions now (and prevent missed opportunities or mistakes later). You’ll continue to adjust and refine, of course, but you should feel confident in this strategy before moving forward.
What if I need to create demand for PrEP with more than one target population?
If you’re communicating to more than one audience the best practice is to create one strategy, and therefore one campaign, that speaks to all the audiences in which you need to inspire behavior change.
The goal in this case is to develop insights that are common to each audience, because if you use a common insight to craft a single strategic idea about PrEP, the campaign will communicate in a way that is meaningful and relevant to every audience.
If you’re communicating to more than two audiences (for instance, adolescent girls, female sex workers and serodiscordant couples), it is still important to try to find insights that are common to all groups. Similarly, using insights that are common between each audience will enable you to create a strategy that speaks to everyone. However, what remains important, as always, is that the strategic idea is focused enough that it communicates no more than one idea, and that it is still rich and flexible enough to be used across various channels (print, website, SMS etc.).